Black fashion designers are responsible for some of the most iconic garments in fashion history. These five African American designers have left their mark on the world of fashion.
Virgil Abloh was artistic director of Louis Vuitton and founder of the brand Off-White. He was known for his ability to incorporate hypebeast streetwear style in the luxury fashion world, and his signature style included many quotation marks in the designs. He abided by the “three-per-cent approach,” the fashion principle which states that changing just three percent of an original design is enough to create an authentic one. Abloh’s promotion at LVMH, a luxury goods company, made him one of the highest-ranking Black executives in the fashion world. He passed away from cardiac angiosarcoma in 2021, at age 41.
Elizabeth Keckley was first lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker. Keckley was born into enslavement in Virginia in 1818 and learned to sew as a child. Later she worked in St. Louis, Missouri, as a dressmaker. She bought freedom for herself and her son, which allowed her to move to Washington, D.C., where she sewed dresses for elite clients, one of whom was Lincoln. Keckley and Lincoln consoled each other after the death of their sons, and Keckley was a source of comfort to Lincoln after the assassination of her husband, President Abraham Lincoln. Keckley published a controversial memoir in 1868, in which she told her life story, including her time in enslavement, her emancipation, and her time working at the White House. Her disclosure of Lincoln’s personal life was socially frowned upon and was the nail in the coffin of their already fractured relationship. She died in 1907, at age 89.
Tracy Reese is a fashion designer known for her use of vibrant colors and unique prints in women’s clothing. Before founding her eponymous brand, she was design director for the women’s portfolio at Perry Ellis, a top fashion house. She has designed for many celebrities, including Michelle Obama, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Taylor Swift. Her recent work focuses on sustainable fashion production in her home city of Detroit, where she works with local artisans and economically underprivileged women.
Ann Lowe was a dressmaker born in Alabama in 1898. She learned how to make dresses from her mother. Lowe was 16 years old when her mother died, and she took over her mother’s task of making four ball gowns for the first lady of Alabama. She opened Ann Lowe’s Gowns in New York City in 1950, where she designed for many high-society matrons. She designed a dress that actress Olivia de Havilland wore to accept an Academy Award, and she designed the wedding dress of future first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. However, neither woman gave Lowe official credit for creating the garments. Lowe was the first Black woman to own a store on Madison Avenue in New York City. She died in 1981.
Victor Glemaud is a Haitian American fashion designer best known for his signature colorful knit sweaters. Raised in Queens, New York, he attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, where he became a design assistant to designer Patrick Robinson. He served as studio director at Paco Rabanne, and later he became style director at Tommy Hilfiger. He is a strong advocate for diversity in hiring practices in the fashion industry.